Herring and the Irish Sea

Giles Bartlett, Marine Projects Officer at WWF-UK is working on the GAP2 project to improve engagement of research organisations, stakeholders and policymakers in fisheries governance.

In May 2013, Giles attended a meeting of the Northern Ireland Pelagic Sustainability Group (NIPSG) addressing the collaborative development of a Long Term Management Plan for Herring in the Irish Sea.

Arriving in Belfast

I arrived into Belfast at the Government science organisation AFBI, on the afternoon of the 21st May as a relatively new recruit to the GAP2 project having recently taken up the role of co-ordinator for WWF.

The meeting was convened as a follow up to last year’s meeting where initial discussions regarding the development of a long-term management plan started with seed funding from Gap2. Since then the fishery has entered full assessment under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard, but conversations between the scientists and fisheries stakeholders had stalled and discussions were still needed relating to the details of the harvest control rule – the essential prerequisite of a long-term management plan – to be finalised. The fishermen are keen to have their fishery certified as the market is increasingly demanding products that have been certified to the MSC standard.

The day started with introductions from the (19 strong) group. Made up of mostly scientists and catching sector representatives, but also including Government officials and NGOs, the attendance is testament to the importance of this fishery to the Northern Ireland industry and the importance they place on the development of a management plan.  While most of the attendees were relatively local, some came from further afield, including Dankert Skagen a renowned fisheries scientist from Norway.

To Business

The first presentation was by  Pieter-Jan Schön, a fisheries scientist based at AFBI, who gave an overview of the stock’s biological situation. Reports show the stock appears to be relatively healthy with a spawning stock biomass (SSB) at around 25,000 tonnes with above average recruitment since 2003 and fishing mortality at 0.26.

The second presentation by the Norwegian, independent fisheries consultant Dankert Skagen, who spoke about harvest control rules and the various options available to the fishery. The industry are keen for a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) which reflects the improving stock situation in the fishery and a harvest control rule which gives them and the stock long-term security.

After these presentations, there was a group discussion, centred on a variety issues around management, the level of the catch that should be taken and the details of the various ways of doing so through a harvest control rule. The current management structure contains seasonal and spatial closures and it was agreed that these rules should be maintained, but with some flexibility of when the fishery can resume following the September spawning season. Conversations also covered market factors and a historical discussion around the fishery in the 1970s when there were few controls on fishing – ultimately resulting in a crash in the Irish Sea herring stock – something which today is an example of how not to manage a fishery.

Conversations continued over lunch where I sat among industry figures who had led the fishery towards MSC certification. This group was joined by Martin Gill from FCI International the certification advisory body managing the assessment. A site visit is planned for August and it’s hoped that many of the attendees at the LTMP meeting would be available for those meetings – an important aspect of the MSC process.

A focus of the afternoon session was, the implications of a discard ban for the fishery – something which is likely to be introduced in 2014 following the CFP reform (although it was concluded that the fishery doesn’t discard any catches). It was stated that the fishery has minimal bycatch issues and this has been verified by observers from DARD who had participated in many trips. At this point the meeting closedand it was agreed that the meeting had been very productive and we move onto the final agreement of the Harvest Control rule on 18th June.

Independent Reflections

Alan McCulla from the Kilkeel based Anglo North Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation (ANIFPO) said “The GAP 2 process has allowed us to fill a significant void in bringing all parties together in order that we may co-ordinate an approach to a fishery that in many ways was the foundation of the commercial fishing industry in Northern Ireland.  Herring in the Irish Sea represents a good news story and is a fishery that we are delighted has embarked upon the MSC’s full accreditation process.  In fact herring is the first Irish Sea fin-fish fishery to follow this important course.  There is no doubt in my mind that without the intervention of the GAP 2 project the progress we have made with this fishery would have been painfully slow.”


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